As Many Students As Possible (AMSAP) Stories

I asked the iFLT/NTPRS/CI Teaching Facebook group for ideas on how to get one massive story with every student starring in it. I was able to get a LOT of students into their own story back in the fall, but then storytelling kind of tapered off like it usually does. I still haven’t found a way to keep storytelling going throughout the year with all the other stuff we have to read, so that might just be my M.O., but I’m not ready to just accept things as-is. Besides, I’m more than enthusiastic about stories and am always on the lookout for collaborative storytelling options that don’t have any acting. The following idea is a combination of Mike Peto’s and Karen Rowan’s suggestions:

Prep:

  • On index cards, students write their name, something they like/like to do, and a role they’d like to have in a multiverse where anything’s possible.
  • Collect cards.
  • Put students into groups.
  • Shuffle and redistribute cards to groups.
  • Groups brainstorm possible connections and story elements based on card info.

There are two different ways to play: either the class works together and story isn’t done until all cards are gone (or class ends if doing this in one block), or the first group to get all their students in the story wins. I asked my students which one they wanted. All classes chose to collaborate, and got between 7 to 13 students into a story in about 30-40 minute. I also began by showing subsequent class sections the other class stories. By doing so, a competition emerged naturally where students to get more students into their story than the other classes.

Process:

  1. Pose a question (e.g., “Where were they?”).
  2. Give students time to discuss in their groups.
  3. Accept one group’s suggestion, or class votes.
  4. Repeat.

Notes:
– It will help to have one rule: a group can only suggest a single student at a time. This avoids a “who were they with?” question resulting in a list of all the students, lol.
– The group brainstorm and discussion result should help create a more coherent narrative.
– Even in the group-only win condition, a teacher goal could be to get every student into the story, so when you accept suggestions from groups, do so evenly, or at least don’t take them from just one or two groups. The winner should definitely be the group that contributes to making the most enjoyable story, but you can extend the storyasking process to include many students, their interests, and roles within the fantasy world.
– Use a target-language, or code-switch format depending on level.

Common Ground (Henshaw & Hawkins, 2022): First 30 Pages All Language Teachers Should Read

This post includes practical ideas I got from Florencia Henshaw’s and Maris Hawkins’ theory-to-practice SLA (second language acquisition) book. The preface and first chapter contain what’s probably among the best 30 pages a language teacher could read, especially one having little familiarity with SLA, and/or those who missed the Tea with BVP train, and While We’re On The Topic.

My context is teaching first year Latin in a small public high school in a large city. Latin is required. It’s the only language offered. So there. I teach beginning students who have no choice (i.e., this often means no interest or any prior knowledge), and many of them didn’t have a second language experience in primary or middle school. Since “novice learners have a long way to go when it comes to developing a linguistic system” (p. 138), my focus is hardly on any output. Output “helps with the skill of accessing that system” (p. 138), which the beginner is still building, so it’s not a priority. This doesn’t mean no one speaks Latin (students do!). This doesn’t mean there isn’t any interaction. What this does mean is that I’m not thrown off by all the “Get students speaking the TL in just five easy steps!” messages that lead so many language teachers astray. Neither are the authors, although they’ve included stuff in the book for those who might be dealing with an IPA-heavy department (Integrated Performance Tasks), or who might be coming from a more traditional program and isn’t quite ready to give input its due attention. Input is key. I’d actually feel the same if I taught second year Latin as well, and maybe even year three. This would also hold true for any language. That is to say I think all Spanish I & II, or maybe even Korean III teachers would benefit from the same approach: a massive focus on input.

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Possession Expression: The “mihi” Game

The communicative purpose of this game is entertainment and winning, although a quick follow-up connection prompt or two gets students thinking about what they learned about each other (i.e., similarities and differences). This will work best introduced at the start of next year after Slide Talk and getting students their own story as work your way through the slides and personal interests (i.e., “Cui placet?” and students yelling out “mihi!”). Then, bring this game back throughout the year with other things students own (e.g., clothing colors, pens/pencils, backpack, iPhone series, book from ELA class, Science teacher, names even, etc.).

I got the idea for this when thinking of the three common ways to express ownership in Latin. While I vary my questions in class, I cannot say that I repeat questions about ownership in all three ways, Yet it would be helpful for the learner. It provides additional input to those ready, and gives processing time for those who need it. I remember this strategy being used quite a bit by Terrence Tunberg at Conventicula Lexingtoniense et Dickinsoniense.

Gameplay
Ask a question, and students race to be first to yell out “mihi/ego/meum!” earning a point. Most points wins. Alternatively, you could do a BINGO! thing and have everyone tally when the statement applies to them, and finding out who had the most at the end. For placet questions at the start of the year, the one response is mihi. After you move on to possession, vary the expression for more variety. Just project this chart showing each possession expression and their response, and pose a question to the class, such as “Cui est nōmen ‘Lailah?'” or “Quis librum The Hate U Give habet?” BONUS: Get students to look around and generate that list for you. EZPZ.

If you wanna increase the challenge, make sure the response matches the question, vary which one you use, and for upper levels ask for a longer response for Cūius questions (e.g., “meus liber est”). Although this game could be played with zero prep just observing similarities in the room, it might be a good idea to have a slide with some vocab handy (e.g., words for clothing, school supply vocab, etc.). After the game is over, have students write down a few similarities they had with other students, or do a Write & Discuss (Type ‘n Talk) as a whole class going over the comparisons.

MYSTĒRIUM: A Whodunnit Game In Latin

**Updated 5.9.22 with a new Whodunnit and its folder**

My students have had a decent time playing our RPG lite “The Game” series, so I went looking for something else with more interaction and collaboration that first year language students could handle on their own without me leading it like The Game. I stumbled across this first-day History class activity from a while back. To be clear, I loath group work for the sake of group work, and have found a lot of it to be a near-complete waste of time. Therefore, I didn’t just want a “who dunnit?” kind of game that meant nothing with barely any Latin processed. I also loath tasks using language that’s way too hard for students to understand. It’s pointless and frustrating, for all of us. That all brought me to coming up with a series of clues and distractions, all using high frequency Latin that first year students could understand in the second half of the year.

The idea behind this whodunnit is for a group of students to reconstruct the events of something—usually not good, but doesn’t have to be violent or upsetting—from a collection of clues. For this first one, I went with a basic print & distribute, although you could treat it almost like an escape room with puzzles getting solved and clues being turned into the teacher in order to move on to the next puzzle. Too much work if you ask me, though. Here’s the basic outline of what I gathered:

  • Culprit & their motive
  • Real clues
  • Distractions (e.g., contradicting statements, alibis, etc.)
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BURNout vs. BOREout

Someone online asked about routines last week or so, and I chimed in with my stock take about my own experience with things getting old, etc. and how the daily routine repeated weekly hasn’t worked out well for me in the past. A short while later, a friend gave pretty much the opposite advice. We’re both usually on the same page when it comes to prep and concern for burnout, so I was momentarily perplexed. Then it hit me: not only to teachers have to avoid burnout, but there’s also “boreout,” my word for stifling the joy in one’s day (for whatever reason). Both have the same outcome, which is leaving the profession at some point with a F^% it attitude. Quite plainly:

  • Too much planning = burnout
  • Too much of the same thing = boreout

For me, routines lead to boreout. I’ve done the Monday = X, and Tuesday = Y thing, but I haven’t had a daily school schedule making that possible for years. Last I did, though, the Monday “talk about weekend” thing got old. I’m not even talking about purely student interest, either. I got bored with it myself. I even get bored by the end of the third 84min. class plan that I teach straight in a row every other day, which is actually the fourth time I’ve taught it (i.e., four sections of Latin 1; one on A days, and the other three back-to-back on B days. Yeah, just put me to bed already, right?). It turns out that I’m prone to boreout just as much as burnout.

Daily routines and not-routines have a common goal. Both seek to avoid stressful, time-consuming, unnecessary planning. My friend has daily routines to reduce (eliminate?) all that. If Wednesday is always a quiz, Wednesday is always a quiz, right? For me, though, one thing I’ve run into is how even with a daily schedule, every Wednesday isn’t always a Wednesday. In fact, about 20% of the school year is irregular according to every calendar I’ve ever worked with given all the random days off, PD, snow days, testing, etc. That means one out of every five classes just…doesn’t happen. This displaces the routines and has caused me additional planning in the past. For example, if Wednesday is quiz day, and there’s no school Tuesday, it might not make sense to quiz anything.

Irregular weeks aside, even having a 2-week rotating activity schedule got old for me. I prefer a Talk & Read structure to every single class, as well as the “1-day-plan-ahead.” That is, each day, I look at a list of activities, noting what we haven’t done in a long time, etc., and plan for the following day. To be fair, I do roughly jot down the week’s possible agenda, or what I might want to do on Wed/Thurs, but it almost never quite stays the same once I get to the day before.

This also helps me be super-responsive to the class’ needs. For example, I did The Monitor Assessment recently and noticed far more incomprehension with one book’s chapter than the previous one. As a result, I adjusted by planning something to address all that in the next class. If I had the routines, and were expecting a quiz on Wednesday, that would’ve been harder to change things up. In sum, whatever time I spend picking out an activity or two for the next day and setting it up—which is usually 5-10 minutes—isn’t a problem for me. That certainly helps me avoid burnout, and has the benefit of keeping boreout at bay.

Skip The Quiz: Highlight Your Confusion

I took this idea from Kelly Gallagher, the History teacher who wrote the “readicide” book. At some point, he started having kids read current news “articles of the week (AOW)” in groups and told them to work together and “highlight their confusion.” I honestly haven’t though about this in a decade, then it just popped into my head the other day. I realized this could be another “skip the quiz” assessment that gives us just as good data, if not better. The task was simple:

  1. In groups of 3-4, read the text (i.e., this week the full Pisces myth from signa zodiaca: vol. III).
  2. Highlight your confusion.

I handed out one text and one highlighter per group. To complete the simple task, students read and interacted, helping each other understand the story. I collected them for use the next class. What I got was a list of words and phrases nearly all groups didn’t know, and a few here and there that each group blanked on. That’s all I needed to make the language more comprehensible, discussing the text the next day and having a short list of words/phrases to park on. Here, “park” refers to a strategy of asking questions and restating answers while focusing on a part of the text that wasn’t as comprehensible (i.e., unknown words). This provides micro-exposure to the words in question, making subsequent reading go more smoothly.

Key Observations & Pedagogical Implications

  • This was a major confidence boost for students who might have doubted their ability to read a text of about 400 words long. Even the most-highlighted packet turned in had no more than 10 unknown words. These were level-appropriate texts. If, however, the packets I got back were marked up beyond belief, that’d tell me the full version couldn’t be read with any ease—the majority of class time and effort unnecessarily spent arriving at comprehension, not starting with comprehension and doing something more with it, prompting a new text or new level of the text. This is more valuable data than any quiz.
  • Students read the story together, receiving input once. Then, we read the story together as a class, students stopping me when we got to a place they highlighted. We discussed the story’s meaning, as well as any etymological connections to the unknown words, and whenever possible, additional input was provided through Q&A. Therefore between a) the first run through in groups with their discussion & rereading while negotiating meaning (because I monitored student interaction), b) the rereading the next day, and c) hearing the Q&A, I wouldn’t be surprised if this 400-word story ended up providing over 1,000 words of input over just two classes. I’ve never heard of any quiz with that much input.

Frontloading Vocab: Known/Unknown Anchor Chart

I usually just read new novellas with students, cold-open. That is, besides reading the back cover description and having a quick discussion to situate the topic, there’s no prep, no fanfare. On occasion, I’ve had students do a little frontloading of some vocab on a Quizlet (and before that on Desmos during our remote year) to make the reading go more smoothly. I’ve also done that for certain chapters once we’ve already started reading, but again, there hasn’t been anything very structured ahead of time. It’s been mostly “just read,” all together, from the start.

Earlier this week, though, I stumbled upon a new way of starting a book together as a class. We began The Star Diaries, and to build on the intrigue and mystique of this book, I played into the mysterious details contained in the description. Here it is:

Not much was known about The Architects—guardians of the stars—until their diaries were found in dark caves sometime during the Tenth Age. Explore their mysterious observations from the Seventh Age (after the Necessary Conflict)—a time just before all evidence of their existence vanished for millennia! What happened to The Architects? Can you reconstruct the events that led to the disappearance of this ancient culture?

As you can see, we’ve got some knowns and unknowns right away. The Architects—are they even people?! They had diaries. There’s something called ages, and there were 10 of them. There was a Necessary Conflict. Was that a big war? The Architects vanished. How long was between Ages Seven and Ten?! How many 1,000s of years are we talking about?! They were an ancient culture. When is now?!

A simple nōta/īgnōta anchor chart really helped sort things out and set up the discovery later on. Students spent a couple minutes writing their own charts of what’s known and unknown right in their notebooks. When it came time to share, I wrote details in Latin on the board, using this time to establish meaning of 10 or so words we were about to read in the book.

COWATS & VOWATS

These are two variations on Bob Patrick’s One Word At a Time Stories (OWATS). OWATS has been around for years, before the first novellas, in fact. I can’t say that I’ve done OWATS with much frequency, but it’s becoming more and more appealing when I scroll through various activities used to get texts.

COWATS
I liked the research Miriam Patrick shared on code-switched (CS) readings, so I wanted to give a scaled-back version a try. In addition to creating CS class texts earlier in the year alongside facing English and full glossary versions, I thought the format might work well with OWATS. It did. The format was to write a story—in English—incorporating one Latin word at a time. Observations:

  • I saw more cohesive stories.
  • Groups wrote more Latin than I expected (i.e., beyond just the one word).
  • The stories were easy to type up in the code-switch format.
  • I would choose one or two stories to type up entirely in Latin and share with the class.

VOWATS
This variation uses VERBA cards as the words given to students to create stories. It eliminates the prep of writing out words on paper, or creating a list, and also generates more variety (since students won’t be getting the same base of words). This could result in less repetition than COWATS or OWATS. For a tighter cluster of vocab, though, select a group of VERBA cards, keeping them in order as students come to you to get their next word. Have them write it down before heading back to their group, and then you’ll be handing out the same words to each group. Plus, zero prep besides choosing some words.

Latin Criticism: Two Broad Categories

Two years ago, almost to the day, I wrote about Latin shaming in what’s turning out to be a quasi-annual public discussion on Latinity (i.e., quality of Latin). In 2020, the discussions concerned Latin spoken in the classroom as well as published works. This year, I’m told the focus is on novellas, which might have something to do with their proliferation. After all, in February of 2020 there were 52 books. Having doubled that number to 113 as of last week, and going from 18 author voices to 26, there’s a lot more different Latin being written now. Different Latin must lead to more opinions about that Latin. Granted, I haven’t been a part of these public discussions myself, but word gets around. Perhaps the 2023 panel on what it means to teach students to actually read Latin has spurred the latest round of things-Latīnitās. I have no idea for sure. Suffice to say that Latin shaming still plagues the profession. Instead of full-out shaming, though, this post sticks to general criticism. In my experience, there are two broad categories of criticism: that which matters, and that which doesn’t…

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